#5: Cardiac CatsFourth down, 11 yards to go in the redzone. Just over a minute remains in the fourth quarter, and the Carolina Panthers find themselves down by six points to the Jacksonville Jaguars on opening day. Jake Delhomme has already manufactured one of the greatest comebacks in team history, but the lead still eludes him. With no choice but to go for it, the usually conservative John Fox sends Jake back out to the huddle. The team lines up, and Jake takes the snap. Back to pass, the entire crowd in the stadium holds its collective breath, and the play takes what seems like an eternity. Suddenly, Ricky Proehl cuts on his slant route, leaving Jason Craft a step behind him. As Gregg Easterbrook would say, "the football gods smiled" upon Jake, as his pass went straight into Proehl's hands for a touchdown, and the win.
Remember that? Remember the blocked kick in Tampa? The John Kasay field goal in overtime in Indianapolis? Or the other Kasay field goal against New Orleans in overtime? Jake Delhomme's amazing comeback drive with two minutes against the Bucs in Charlotte? Or one of the best, Steve Smith's longest career reception, 69 yards for a touchdown in double overtime, to go to the NFC Championship game?
The media dubbed the 2003 NFC Champions the "Cardiac Cats." Delhomme and Co.'s panache for winning close games, and setting a few records for overtime games, as well, had defibrillator sales for Panther fans up. Every game that year seemed close; every one was a nail biter, and every one was important.
Many sports analysts attributed the success to the Carolina Panthers being "under the radar." However, with the amount of times the team was brought up about their winning ways, no team could have overlooked them. In fact, many teams, such as the NFL Champion Buccaneers, seemed to have personal vendettas and gunning for the Panthers.
While the Panthers did lose a few games, one of which was lost by the very formula they had used to win in overtime, they seemed to find ways to win at any cost. The Panthers became the masters of winning the close games, a trait lacking from the previous year's team. Nine of their eleven wins were by seven points or less, and three of their five losses were lost by that same margin. While the Panthers were two or three plays away from getting to the playoffs in 2002, they were two or three plays away from missing the playoffs in 2003. It seemed that Coach Fox's training and rigorous practices paid off, and the Panthers figured out how to finally close out the close ones.
The Panthers stormed through the playoffs, with stats that rivaled the best players of league in offense and defense. The "Cardiac Cats" seemed to have graduated into the predators of the jungle that a panther really is. However, in the Super Bowl, the Panthers were up to their old selves, losing from a last second Patriot field goal by three points.
While the 2003 Carolina Panthers were dismissed as "flukes," the fans know that the magical season was anything but. Hard work, training, and even a touch of luck pushed the Panthers through the season, but Carolina proved that this team of Cardiac Cats were true contenders, no matter what the rest of the league thought.